Chaitanya’s uncourtly tale of law at Chandigarh Cinema Festival

  • Harjeet Inder Singh Sahi, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 30, 2015 14:14 IST
Vivek Gomber has acted in as well as produced the film Court (Karun Sharma/HT)

Abrush with the law, ill health or lack of money can put anyone into a tailspin, particularly a poor man. The Chandigarh Cinema Festival’s inauguration at the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Sector 10, Chandigarh began on a high note on Friday with the screening of Chaitanya Tamhane’s grim celluloid portrayal of the abject condition of poor undertrial prisoners in the country. Presence of Vivek Gomber, lead actor and producer of the movie, added spice to the event.

A spark is all you need

Vivek, a Singaporean citizen, went to live on the island city-state as a young boy. His mother, retired Justice Meena Gomber, is from the very institution which he chose as a subject to produce a film. Although his life has been a journey to and from airports, he shifted to Mumbai in 2004 and entered the world of theatre.

Vivek talked animatedly about Court and his journey in cinema in an interaction with the press. “Chaitanya and I first discussed the idea behind Court in 2011. He had just finished his short film Six Strands and was at a crossroads regarding his future plans. He was intrigued by the laborious process of justice in lower courts and also witnessed mismanagement and lethargy ailing the police stations. That is how we explored the possibility of making a film and Chaitanya came up with an excellent script,” says Vivek, who plays the role of the defence lawyer Vinay Vora.

'Tarikh pe tarikh'

Vivek founded his production company in 2012 and they finally set the ball rolling to produce Chaitanya’s film. It took three years (from 2011 to 2014) for the idea to see the light of day. Court chooses a very relevant subject as there are nearly four lakh prison inmates in India as per official figures, and two out of three are undertrials whose cases are dragging in courts for durations longer than the punishment awarded under law.

“The interminable process in the courts as well as the arbitrary interpretation and misapplication of law are indeed very saddening,” says Vivek.

The film critiques the unending ‘tarikh pe tarikh’, arbitrary decisions of officials and the tragic fate of poor undertrials in the grip of such a labyrinthine system of justice.

“Court is certainly different from the usual overdramatic Sunny Deol-style films based on law because our effort was to put the characters in as natural a mould as possible,” says Vivek, on Court being compared with older Bollywood films on a similar subject.

The gutter side of it

Court stays away from any attempt in histrionics to capture attention because the setting of the film and the characters are realistic to the core.

Police high-handedness and incompetence of lower courts is portrayed in a subtle manner as Judge Sadavarte and investigating officer Pradeep Shelke go about their business. It’s as if the story is simply unravelling in courts and on the streets.

Folk singer activist Narayan Kamble is arrested from a performance at a little gathering in one of the slums in Mumbai and charged with abetment of suicide of municipal worker Vasudev Pawar. The police investigation based on flimsy evidence is exposed as Kamble was not even acquainted with Pawar but is charged simply on allegations by questionable witnesses of having sung a song inciting suicidal tendencies at a previous performance. It is indeed a story of the choked gutters of society and law as the abject picture of Pawar’s death in a gutter is juxtaposed with Kamble’s bizzare prosecution in court.

Court also explores the need for changing archaic laws by showing how Kamble was first arrested under the age-old Dramatic Performances Act, a law enforced to curb the staging of anti-colonial performances in British India in 1876.

'Hilarious' predicament

Vivek says he finds the film ‘hilarious’. Many would contest such a view but the film is steeped in irony and dark humour projected through courtroom scenes. When Kamble is arrested again under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the vagueness in the interpretation of law is unwittingly exposed when the prosecution reads out charges included under the Act that counts bombs, dynamite, noxious gases and other methods of destruction along with the phrase ‘or by any other means of whatever nature’.

The dark courtroom scene towards the end superbly sums up the ‘court’ part of the film. The legal system is dark and not amenable to any easy remedies as the judge goes off on a vacation. “I wish Chitanya was here to discuss the scenes he shot so painstakingly. He does excellent work but is not very communicative in interactions,” says Vivek.

Not black-robed angels

Court doesn’t have the advertising and promotional muscle of a commercial film.

“Our aim was to make it big at top tier festivals. That is the only way to first premiere a film if you don’t have a huge budget. Apart from this, we promoted it through the legal fraternity and now requests for screening at institutions have multiplied exponentially,” says Vivek.

On being asked if it is true that ‘kanoon ke sirf haath hi lambe hote hain’, Vivek says, “It’s actually more correct to say malnutritioned. The judicial and police systems are ailing.”

Court compels us to think about the deadlocks in India’s police and judicial systems as the guardians of law are not exactly black-robed angels.

Viewers speak

Court is taken to consummate heights by the debutante director. The film exposes the lethargy of the police, sheer absurdity of outmoded laws, abysmal level of safety of menial workers – a denial of their basic human rights and the legal interpretation of art as sedition. I liked the film for its blend of honesty and idealism and recommend it. Thanks to 4C for bringing it to city!

Sakoon N Singh Assistant Professor, Dept of English, DAV College

I have always been attracted to meaningful cinema. Being here is a feast for my senses and mind. Court is a realistic portrayal of how judicial, social and family system in India works. It also touches issues like casteism and rationality very delicately. The personal life of advocates and judges was another interesting feature of the film.

Malvika Mohindra Communication skills instructor

I have just entered law college, so it was an interesting experience for me. How the man goes through the trials. How advocates argue. It was hilarious and looked very real. The whole setup was brilliant! I really liked it.

Chahat Vats, LLB first semester, department of law, Panjab University, Chandigarh

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